Friday, June 18, 2010

Knitting with Arthritis

That title is about the mechanics of how I knit, as well as the plan to use knitting for my life with lupus. I know, with me it's never just one thing. Can't help it, that's what the brain does - leading me here and there, tying together things that I find along the way.

This week the wonderful hat anthology that Annie Modesitt put together is being released. 1000 Fabulous Knit Hats is exactly what it sounds like, with gorgeous photos of hats knitted by scores of knitters, and ten special hats that were chosen as the best original designs. The patterns for those ten are included. Eleven of my hats are included. They are scattered through the book but can be found in the Contributors index, where I found my name under "W" for Woods Bruell. I don't think Daddy understands the significance of my persistence with my maiden name - his name - but it means a lot to me. I was stunned to see a detail from one of my hats on the Introduction page. It was such a tangible proof of my involvement there. I will probably have palpitations when the books actually arrive. You can see them here on, where there is a hefty discount.

I hope the book sells a million copies. The editor, Annie Modesitt, is a legend in knitting circles. She is an innovator , teacher, designer and writer. It takes big work to share your thoughts and designs in the huge way that she has. Her combination knitting techniques have revolutionized knitting for many of us. On a personal note, I would not be pursuing this second career without it, as those innovations have made it possible for me to knit well and endure longer knitting sessions, even with my painful arthritis. Annie has recently come to understand the endurance barrier herself, as she has dealt with severe symptoms of fibromyalgia. She writes honestly in her blog about everything in her life, including her husband's ordeals with cancer, her travels, and her feelings about her own new illness. She is deserving of every success.

I don't profit from the 1000 Hats book. It's just one way of showcasing what I love. I always enjoyed tangible proof of my work. Seeing a patient make progress, getting an education certificate, signing the payroll checks in my office - I had those in medicine. Now it's the printed pattern from Cherry Tree Hill Yarns, the calls for my custom work, counting the till at the end of a good market day. A long time ago I considered a research career. At the end of my Hopkins training I accepted a fellowship at the University of California San Francisco. For all the wrong reasons ("love") I decided to come home and continue in clinical primary care medicine. The outcome was fortuitous - instead of spending countless hours in a lab, putting tubes in the throats of lab rats, I started my family and my medical practice. I was infinitely better suited for the latter. The wonder of watching my child grow up, and the day to day satisfaction of working with people in a field that required creativity and constant change was satisfying in a way that research couldn't match.

Right now I have two custom projects under way, with a third waiting in the wings. I'm having to use all that I know about knitting with arthritis in order to run this stretch. In addition to combination knitting, which allows me to form stitches without undo twisting and turning of my needles, I have placed every project on circular needles, which keeps the weight of the growing fabric resting on my lap. When I discovered that one project was a third wider than necessary, I took off the 4 inches of work and began again. I figure this saved me at least 6 hours of extra knitting, even though I had pangs over the work I lost. I am using smaller needles than necessary on one project in order to maintain the gauge I want without having to knit very tightly. Knitting looser keeps a lot of strain off my fingers. It is especially helpful when there are intricate stitches like twists, cables, and even knitting two stitches together. That little bit of extra room to maneuver makes a huge difference. I discovered that one of my twists had moved over a stitch, and (GASP) I left it there. It was only visible to the closest inspection of a discerning knitter eye, and I didn't feel the need to undo many hours of knitting to fix it. Sometimes perfection is not the perfect option. I take frequent breaks, massage my hands, stretch, and get up from my chair. Arthritis involves more than just my hands, and my knees and hips and feet need a break, too. I keep water on my side table and take frequent drinks. It's easy to neglect hydration when you get involved in a project. My sketch book is also on the table so I can transfer those random ideas quickly as they occur to me. A few days ago, I had an idea for a sock pattern. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't put it directly into the book-I really don't do socks. Anyway, knowing that I don't miss any ideas keeps me from being anxious and tense while I'm knitting.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Packing for College Again

I am watching my daughter edit. Fortunately, I staked my claim on the territory occupied by my computer and my butt, as she has covered the rest of my bed with piles of her clothing. While we listen to Two and a Half Men reruns and marvel that Charlie Sheen can be serving time for domestic assault and be the highest paid man in television, she is packing for summer school at UGA. She believes that she will remove some clothing from some of the piles and leave it at home. I am waiting for proof. Packing for college year four and a half basically involves lots of clothing and two television sets. Anything else can be borrowed, appropriated or picked up on a visit home.

Next to me is the pair of wild hot pink fingerless gloves that I've almost finished knitting. They are in my favorite sock yarn, Colinette Jitterbug. I think they are going to need a flower over the wrist closing. I'm getting crochet-happy, and flowers come off my hook at the drop of a hat. I've knit them to be identical, with the tab directions matching. I liked that quirky plan, one closing with the tab on top and the other with the tab underneath, and it will be enhanced when I put non-matching flowers on them.

I've been designing like crazy. My daughter inspired me. She had pushed me to make some crochet jewelry, and finally she put some drawings in front of me and said "You're making this." She even went to the craft store and purchased plastic rings and wooden balls for me to cover, and got out a pile of beads from her own crafting stash. With her designs and beading, and my crochet, we had a pile of necklaces for the Chattanooga Market last week. They seem to be a big hit.

As I said, I'm inspired by Dayna's persistence and creativity. I've been writing patterns like crazy, and some are already submitted. Others are at the re-test stage or need photos. If I'm gonna sell patterns, I might as well get on with it. In the back of my mind I have a theme for a collection of patterns. I've written myself an email to keep it from slipping away. Focus, focus, focus.

While I try to focus, my child is diving flat onto packed heavyweight zipper bags. She tries to expand and roll around and squeeze the air out, then quickly slides the zipper. She calls this making her own space bags. Her current packing technique involves lots of these "space bags", several laundry hampers, and doing a little dance when she leaves the room.

I'm doing little dances myself these days. This week I made it to 20 minutes on the exercise bike, and I've been doing it daily. I haven't had this much exercise capacity in many, many years. Prednisone at 10 mg alternating with 5 mg each morning - my doc predicts good metabolism. Hope he's a colossal prophet.

Summer is so fun. Peace.